2020-21 UEFA Nations League Group A3: Group analysis - who will make it through?
- A look at the chances of all four teams in League A Group 3 of the UEFA Nations League.
After initial scepticism and criticism over UEFA's pilot Nations League tournament, fans were slowly won over, with the first edition considered a relative success.
Following on from that, the new phase for the next season has been set into motion, with the draws for next cycle's group stage taking place in Amsterdam and expectedly, lots of juicy fixtures were served up.
The basic premise of the Nations League is the replacement of meaningless friendly matches with competitive action, with countries of equal strength and ranking placed in the same leagues, playing each other home and away with promotions and relegations on offer.
A few changes were made to this season's format, one of which was the expansion of League A to accommodate 16 teams as against 12 last year and the tournament would kick off in September 2020 and last through June 2021.
Each of the Leagues were split into four groups (with the exception of League D which has just two groups) and Group 3 of League A is the focus of this piece.
League A Group 3: Portugal, France, Sweden, Croatia
League A Group 3 team analysis
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo
Current FIFA ranking: 7
Head coach: Fernando Santos
Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo
Nickname: Le Selecao
Portugal are the defending champions of the UEFA Nations League, having won the first edition on home soil when they defeated the Netherlands in the final.
In what was an unexpected run to the final, not many people gave the Iberians a chance, after their failure at the last World Cup. But they topped their group with relative ease, before dispatching Switzerland in the semi-finals.
That makes them holders of the two international trophies available to UEFA-member nations and they would seek to build on their successes from the last four years.
Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe
Current FIFA ranking: 2
Head coach: Didier Deschamps
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Nickname: Les Bleus
France won the 2018 World Cup in style and sought to go one further by triumphing in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League. Their journey was, however, ended by a resilient Netherlands at the group stage, with the Dutch usurping them on the final classification by just goal difference.
Despite the increased number of teams participating in League A, France would fancy their chances of winning the only international trophy missing from their cabinet.
Player to watch: Emil Forsberg
Current FIFA ranking: 17
Head coach: Janne Andersson
Captain: Andreas Granqvist
Nickname: Blagult (The Blue and Yellow)
Unlike France and Portugal, Sweden are not exactly a major force in international football, but this is in no way to suggest that they are pushovers, having produced some true legends of the game like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson.
The Scandinavians are regular fixtures at major international tournaments and are capable of taking advantage of slip-ups, evidenced by their third-place finish at the 1994 World Cup and quarter-final appearance in 2002.
Player to watch: Luka Modric
Current FIFA ranking: 6
Head coach: Zlatko Dalic
Captain: Luka Modric
Nickname: Kockasti (The Chequered Ones)
Following the devastating and deadly break up of the former Yugoslavian Republic in 1992, Croatia were one of the smaller nations that emerged from the ruins and just six years later, led by Davor Suker, they captured the hearts of the world with their third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup.
A new Golden Generation emerged at the start of the last decade and they finally fulfilled their potential with a runners-up finish at the 2018 World Cup. They followed this up with a disappointing performance in the Nations League, finishing bottom of League A Group 4. However, they were saved the embarrassment of relegation as a result of the expansion of the top-tier.
League A Group 3 analysis and prediction
Although there are occasions of unfancied sides usurping the established order at international tournaments, these instances are few and far between, with the general status quo and hierarchical order mostly preserved.
On paper, Sweden are significantly weaker than the other sides and owe their appearance in League A to the inclusion of four extra teams. They, however, secured qualification to Euro 2020, pipping fellow Scandinavian nation Norway to second spot in Group F and are capable of upsetting the odds if underrated.
Croatia topped their group in Euro qualification, comfortably dispatching the likes of Wales and Slovakia, but they would be coming up against much tougher opposition in the Nations League, and given that the core of their squad are on the wrong side of 30, it is hard to see the Eastern Europeans doing too much in this group.
With the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal have an edge and can never be written off, while they also showed their mettle by successfully navigating the group stage without their talisman last year.
However, it is hard to see them repeating such heroics, as they had an overrated Poland and an Italy in transition last year - there is a marked improvement in quality this time around.
France have arguably the biggest squad depth in all of international football today and with the abundance of quality available to him, coach Didier Deschamps would always have 'positive' headaches when choosing his squad of players.
There is a balance of international veterans like Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Hugo Loris, and Raphael Varane to give experience and guidance to young upstarts like Benjamin Pavard, Kingsley Coman, Ousmane Dembele (if he can stay fit), and Tanguy N'dombele.
In Kylian Mbappe, they have the universally acclaimed heir to the Ronaldo- Lionel Messi throne, and despite underperforming at the maiden edition of the Nations League, it is hard to see beyond France topping this group.
Verdict: France to go through, Croatia to be relegated
Published 05 Mar 2020, 22:43 IST